The Letter Writer
“When a man writes a letter to an intimate friend or to the woman he loves, he puts on his festive dress; that is befitting. And in the quiet letter, on the white paper, he expresses his best feelings. The tongue and the spoken word are so vulgarised by everyday use, that they cannot say aloud the beautiful things which the pen says silently."
– From the chapter ”Our Best Feelings” in A New Blue Book, 1908
Strindberg’s extensive correspondence was among the fundamental stimuli of his literary production. Some 10,000 of his letters are still extant. The oldest one was written to his parents when he was ten years old and spending the summer at the home of a parish clerk in the Sörmland province. His last missives were telegrams that he sent in May 1912 shortly before his death.
Reading Strindberg’s letters is a tumultuous and often entertaining experience. Like a chameleon, he expresses contradictory opinions and assumes various guises depending on his motives or the exigencies of the moment. Matter-of-fact letters to publishers alternate with high-spirited chronicles to his friends and spiteful diatribes against his enemies. Every once in a while you’ll find a loving epistle to one of his children or a dry, overly bureaucratic business transaction. With great agility, he adapts his style to the particular recipient and the emotional pitch he wants to convey.
Based on the dates of the letters, Strindberg’s ambulatory lifestyle and the places that either inspired or revolted him come into full view. Frequently he writes about his work and the status of his literary projects, and passages from his letters have a way of turning up in his books, or the other way around. He delights in crossing the line between fact and fiction – and back again.
The articles on Strindberg were written by Magnus Halldin. The timeline "Strindberg year by year " was compiled by David Gedin. Texts © 2012 the author and the Swedish Arts Council respectively.